Food Sovereignty through Community Gardens in São Paulo/SP

Published: 13 November 2017
Last edited: 13 March 2018
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The NGO Cities Without Hunger sets up community gardens on vacant urban land in the city of São Paulo's socioeconomically deprived East Zone (Zona Leste) to provide jobs, income, and to enhance food sovereignity.


Cities Without Hunger aims to enhance local residents' spatially and economically restricted access to high-quality fresh produce (high rates of unemployment, a low density of farmers' markets or supermarkets, low mobility). 


The NGO provides agricultural training for people who have poor chances on the regular job market as community gardeners. Since 2004, the NGO has implemented 25 community gardens together with about 115 local residents who have started earning their livelihoods as community gardeners. After one year, gardeners are able to manage their plots autonomously and sell their produce directly to the people from the neighbourhood. Along with gardeners’ families, some 650 people benefit from the project by having their livelihood guaranteed.


South America
Scale of implementation
Green spaces (parks, gardens, urban forests)
Urban Ecosystem
Access and benefit sharing
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Cities and infrastructure
Ecosystem services
Food security
Gender mainstreaming
Genetic diversity
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Health and human wellbeing
Outreach & communications
Peace and human security
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Urban planning
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 3: Incentives reformed
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 9: Invasive alien species prevented and controlled
Target 13: Safeguarding genetic diversity
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 16: Access to and sharing benefits from genetic resources
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Target 20: Mobilizing resources from all sources


São Paulo - State of São Paulo, Brazil


The city of São Paulo is economically and socially divided. The East Zone stands out as grim sprawl of poverty and violence in the municipal context. Poor social conditions, mobility infrastructure, and low economic activity keep it segregated from the rest of the metropolis. Some 3.3 million people (33% of the city’s population) live here. The unstructered growth of the urban sprawl left vacant urban land, subsequently often abused as dump site. Income levels are low. More than 90% of the residents earn less than 1530 R$ (470 US $), and 11% to 35% less than 255 R$ (80 US $) per month (Censo 2010). Often domestic migrants from Brazil's Northeast seeking jobs and income opportunities in the city end up living in this area and doing odd jobs due to their age, poor health, or lack of formally recognised education. Malnutrition and poor physical and economic access to fresh fruit and vegetables have negative impacts on citizens' health, especially on child development.


  1. People who are marginalised in the labour market due to their age, poor health, or lack of formally recognised education 
  2. People from the neighbourhood whose economic and physical access to fresh produce is limited

How do the building blocks interact?

The Law on Urban Agriculture for the city of São Paulo sets the legal framework within which urban agriculture is actually rendered officially possible (BB 1). 


The foundation of Cities Without Hunger as NGO acting on the ground in São Paulo's East Zone closes a gap between city administration and local residents (BB 2). 


Visibility of the community gardens, communication among residents and through the media, and guidance through Cities Without Hunger lead to replication: People see and understand the change that is possible within the urban environment (BB 3). 


Vacant urban land and landuse contracts for these areas are the prerequisite for the implementation of a community garden (BB 4). 


The community gardens are financed through donations and are self-supporting after a one-year implementation phase (BB 5). 


Agricultural training courses for project participants as well as potential prior knowledge in agriculture on their side facilitate the implementation of a community garden (BB 6). 



Since 2004, Cities Without Hunger has created 25 community gardens in São Paulo's East Zone. Run by a collective of 115 community gardeners, the gardens directly support the livelihood of some 650 marginalised people, including mothers and children. Furthermore, Cities Without Hunger has organised about 50 professional qualification courses, having trained over 1,000 individuals in agriculture or commerce.


The organic mixed culture gardens have contributed to enhancing local biodiversity. Special consideration is given to old or indigenous varieties like arruda or cerejeira, medical plants, flowers, and herbs. As 'green islands' within the city, the gardens improve local microclimate and water regime. Created on abandoned public and private land, e. g. under electricity lines, or on unused areas previously abused as dumping sites, local environment is both embellished and cared for.


The gardens are social spaces fostering communication and social coherence within the neighbourhood. The gardens' substantial lighthouse effect improves the socioeconomic integration of the area: interested parties from city government or other organisations visit them as best-practice examples; or delivery partnerships like the one with pizza restaurant Carlos Pizza from upper middle class Vila Madalena district contribute to this.



Agriculture from the country to the city: In search of a better livelihood


Ivone Maria Getúlio coordinates the 3,500 square metre community garden Horta Sapopemba. The garden provides jobs and income opportunities for 13 families from the immediate neighbourhood. Ivone is in her late 50ies. She was born in the municipality of Borrazópolis in the state of Paraná in the Southern Region of Brazil. As a child, she helped out her parents on their small family farm, fed the chicken and pigs, and lent a hand for the work on the fields. She only went to primary school and did not follow further education. As young woman, she moved to the city of Sao Paulo and soon got married. As mother of three children, she stayed at home to take care of her family. Whenever she found an opportunity, she worked as a seller in small shops to support her family's livelihood. She would also gather disposable materials like PET bottles and cardboard on the streets and sell them to recycling cooperatives. 


The plot of land where the community garden is implemented today used to be a desolate area bordering a favela above an oil pipeline. Big signs saying "ATENÇÃO – Dutos Enterrados – Não acender fogueiras – Não jogar lixo ou entulhos" (ATTENTION – Buried Pipelines – Do Not Light Fire – Do Not Dump Waste or Rubble) are reminders of the city's uncontrolled sprawl. 


In order to implement a community garden here, CITIES WITHOUT HUNGER concluded a contract for the area's use with the proprietor, petroleum supplier Transpetro. Crucial for the agricultural cultivation of this area is CITIES WITHOUT HUNGER's technological know-how, since plant roots must not exceed a certain length due to the oil pipeline. Within a year, the organisation brought together a group of local residents who, similar to Ivone, sought to find jobs and income opportunities allowing for a dignified life for themselves and their families. Supported by the NGO's expertise, agricultural training courses, and machines, they prepared the soil, planted and sowed. Within a year, the garden became self-supported, managed by Ivone. The community garden gave Ivone a new perspective, not least because she is able to work in an area she knows a lot about from her childhood. "I grew up in agriculture. The community garden is my life. It nourishes me and my family and gives me great joy", she smiles.

Contributed by

Alice Bischof


Urbanization is an ongoing and autonomous worldwide trend creating an ever-growing number of urban consumers while rapidly declining the number of farmers and pushing out agriculture from metropolitan areas. This process will increase in coming years, especially in developing countries where between 80% and 90% of population growth will be in cities. Environmental pollution, health problems, the construction of illegal settlements and malnutrition only represent part of future urban challenges. CITIES WITHOUT HUNGER transforms unused public and private plots of land into useful community
gardens. Our sustainable agrarian projects based on organic agriculture improve the precarious situation of the people living in the favelas (slums) in the East Area of the Brazilian metropolis Sao Paulo and create green spaces in a
densely populated urban environment.

The aim is to help and teach people to manage their own business and become financially independent. Community Gardens, School Gardens and Agricultural Greenhouses have been developed on unused and neglected public and private areas within social focal points to provide jobs and improve the diets of adults and children. In 2009 the Small Family Farms Project, the organizations fourth project, has been set up in Rio Grande do Sul, to train farmers in multiple cropping as an alternative to monoculture and help them starting new businesses in organic farming.

CITIES WITHOUT HUNGER was founded in 2004 in São Paulo by Hans Dieter Temp, who has a degree in Business Administration, and is a Technician for Agriculture and Environmental Policies. In 2013 Hans Dieter Temp was selected and awarded with the title Social Entrepreneur “Changemaker” by Ashoka. CITIES WITHOUT HUNGER has received numerous national and international awards, such as the Milton Santos Award in 2014, created to honor entities and people who have contributed with the city of São Paulo. In 2012 CITIES WITHOUT HUNGER was selected by Caixa Econômica Federal for its commitment to the realization of the UN-Millennium Goals. The organization was also awarded with the Dubai International Award for Best Practices 2010 (UN-HABITAT).